Michigan stifles, steamrolls Minnesota in another Big Ten bashing
Ann Arbor — For the second time in four days, Michigan welcomed a ranked foe into Crisler Center.
And for the second straight game, the No. 10 Wolverines used a stifling defensive effort and a stellar outing from freshman center Hunter Dickinson to steamroll the opposition.
Dickinson scored a season-high 28 points and Michigan smothered No. 16 Minnesota from start to finish to turn the top-20 matchup into a lopsided 82-57 blowout victory on Wednesday night.
"We knew that the media and everybody was going to talk about, ‘They’re 6-0, 7-0 but who have they played?’ Not to discredit any of the teams that we played, but they didn't have the ranked number,” said senior forward Isaiah Livers, who finished with 14 points. “I think people worry about the ranked number instead of working on your chemistry and basketball. We play team basketball. That's what we do here at Michigan, and it shows on the court.
“We make that extra pass, we're not afraid to give the ball up, we're happy for guys' success and we lock in defensively. Honestly, I think we're the team to beat. We're a really hard team to beat when everybody is confident.”
What started as a strong defensive stand quickly turned into a mauling after halftime. The Wolverines (10-0, 5-0 Big Ten) opened the second half with a 17-4 spurt, with Dickinson kick-starting the dominant stretch with a pair of close-range baskets as Michigan scored the first eight points out of the break.
Following another bucket from Dickinson, sophomore wing Franz Wagner ended the run with a fast-break layup to turn a six-point lead into a 49-30 cushion with 14:32 remaining.
The Wolverines didn't let up and kept their foot on the gas, turning the contest into a laugher with a 20-0 run. Michigan held Minnesota without a field goal for over six minutes and six different Wolverines scored during the flurry. By the time it ended, the lead swelled to 71-34 with 7:56 to go and the outcome was never in doubt.
Dickinson finished 12-for-15 from the field and grabbed eight rebounds as he outshined and neutralized Minnesota big man Liam Robbins, a fellow 7-footer and the reigning Big Ten player of the week.
“He was phenomenal,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said of Dickinson. “We talked about trapping him, but kind of similar to like what (Iowa’s Luka) Garza does, he’s just getting him in spots and going so quick it was hard to do anything. Our pick-and-roll coverage was poor. We let him release on the backside and we were no good there.
"He's a really good player. I’ve never seen a kid shoot those type of percentages. Everything just kind of dies into the basket.”
Wagner added 12 points for Michigan, which shot 56.9% from the field (33-for-58) and is off to a 10-0 start for the second time in three seasons.
Marcus Carr, who entered the game as the Big Ten’s third-leading scorer at 22.1 points per game, scored 14 on 5-for-16 shooting for Minnesota (10-3, 3-3). Senior guard Eli Brooks primarily defended Carr until he exited the game in the second half after losing a tooth in a collision for a loose ball.
“We knew they could score the ball,” Livers said. “Obviously, our focus was on Marcus Carr, the head of the snake as Coach (Juwan) Howard would say. Slow him down and we slow down the other guys who feed off of him.”
That's essentially what happened as the Gophers were held to a season-low 57 points and shot 32.4% from the field (22-for-68) — their third lowest mark of the season — en route to their seventh consecutive loss at Crisler Center.
“They were very good defensively,” Pitino said. “They were very physical defensively. They were taking us out of our stuff. They were pressuring the ball.
“They did a great job on us and defensively we didn’t do a great job on them, so it’s a bad combination. When you’re offensively not moving the ball very well and defensively you have no resistance, you’re probably going to be on the other side of a tough game.”
The matchup within the matchup was the big man battle between Dickinson and Robbins. Dickinson showed he was ready for the challenge from the start, tipping an offensive rebound to himself, using his body to move Robbins and scoring a second-chance bucket on Michigan’s first possession.
Robbins countered with a basket at the rim that sent Dickinson crashing to the court and splashed a 3-pointer. But that ended up being all the offensive production Robbins could muster as Dickinson stole the spotlight. He answered with a dunk off a dump feed from grad transfer guard Mike Smith and spun away from a double-team for a layup, helping Michigan take a 15-9 lead with 11:04 left in the first half.
"I think before the game I was pretty excited to go against another top big man not only in the conference, but in the country," Dickinson said. "I respect him so I came in with a good mindset.”
Even though Michigan was sloppy and mistake-prone at times on offense, the Wolverines were locked in defensively from the tip — being active, deflecting passes and limiting Minnesota to one-shot possessions.
Michigan’s defense eventually sparked its offense and ignited a 13-3 run. Livers turned a pair of steals into two fast-break dunks and Wagner drained a 3-pointer after the Wolverines forced a shot clock violation. By the time Dickinson capped the spurt with a dunk, Michigan's lead grew to 30-18 at the 3:27 mark.
Carr briefly heated up and scored eight points over the final 2:20 to close the gap to 32-26 at the break. But that’s as close as the Gophers would get before the Wolverines ran another top-20 opponent out of the building.
"Our team is humble,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “They know that the season doesn't end until April.”